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Concussion Risk in Youth Ice Hockey Triples When Body-Checking Allowed

Study cited in USA Hockey's proposed ban of body-checking in Pee Wee hockey

A 2010 Canadian study1 finding that the risk of concussion in youth ice hockey leagues that allow body-checking is triple that in leagues that do not, is fueling calls to extend the ban on body-checking to 11- and 12-year-olds playing at the Pee Wee level, including a proposal USA Hockey will consider at its annual congress in June 2011.

Researchers at the University of Calgary followed 11- and 12-year-olds playing Pee-Wee hockey over the course of the 2007-2008 season.  For those playing in leagues  where body checking was allowed, the risk of all game-related injuries and in concussions, including ones serious enough that the player did not return to play for at least 10 days, and severe injuries such as fracture, were three times greater than for players in leagues that did not allow body checking.

Players in "Squirt" leagues for children under age 11 are not allowed to body check, but it allowed in leagues for older kids, from Pee Wee on up.   The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that checking be banned in youth hockey for children 15 and under.

USA Hockey to consider delayed body checking until Bantam level

A recommendation that USA adopt a rule prohibiting body checking in youth hockey games until they reach the Bantam level (13-14 year-olds) was presented at the organization's 2011 winter meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and will be considered by its Board at its Annual Congress in June 2011.  According to USA Hockey President, Ron DeGregorio, the proposal  "has significant support." 

While the University of Calgary study was cited by USA Hockey's senior director of hockey development, Kevin McLaughlin, reinforced the need for the rule change, he said the rule was not designed primarily to address safey issues.  "It's a skill development initiative first," McLaughlin said, based on USA Hockey's research that bodychecking at the Pee Wee level (11-12 year olds) was significantly distracting players from improving their skills at a crical time in their development, with players either too focused on hitting or trying to avoid a hit.

"What we find is that an 11-year-old brain is more susceptible to concussion,"  McLaughlin said.  "The 11- and 12-year-old brain is not cognitively developed to anticipate being hit. So if you can't anticipate it and you can't protect yourself, you're putting yourself in a predicament to suffer a more severe injury."

1. Emery, Carolyn A. "Risk of Injury Associated with Body Checking Among Youth Ice Hockey Players" J. Am. Med. Assn 303, no. 22: 2265-2272 (June 9, 2010).

Other sources: "Winter Meetings Prove Productive" USA Hockey (accessed February 3, 2011);  Duhatschek E, " USA Hockey considers banning bodychecking for youth players" Toronto Globe and Mail (February 1, 2011) (accessed February 3, 2011). 

Created June 10, 2010; updated February 3, 2011